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Washington Beat

Washington Beat

Federal spending shrinking for cutting-edge technology

Federal funding for new knowledge in areas of special interest to design engineers has been dwindling. So finds a study by the National Academies of Science and Engineering. The total appropriation for federal science and technology (FS&T) for fiscal 1997 is $43.4 billion. That is 0.7% higher than a year earlier, after adjustment for inflation. However, the FS&T budget is 5% less than it was three years ago. Further, if spending by the Department of Health and Human Services--mostly for biomedical research--were excluded, the FS&T budget would be nearly 10% less than in fiscal 1994. The FS&T budget excludes funding traditionally counted in the federal R&D budget for activities such as production engineering, testing and evaluation, and upgrading of large weapons and related systems. But it does include nearly $8 billion a year that the Pentagon invests in new knowledge and technologies for future weapons.

NASA should lead U.S. research in aeronautics, panel decides

Which government agency should coordinate long-term R&D into aeronautics? The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) says a committee of the National Research Council. The panel picked NASA over the Department of Defense, the Federal Aviation Administration, the National Science Foundation, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Among reasons: NASA is chartered by the National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958 to "preserve the role of the United States as a leader in aeronautical science and technology and the application thereof." No other federal agency has this legislative mandate. Also, NASA already is the lead agency for the Advanced Subsonic Technology program, the High Speed Research program, and the Advanced General Aviation Technology program. Aeronautics research at other agencies, the report maintains, is mostly "in support of their operational missions."

Pentagon launches pilot program to promote dual-use purchases

The Department of De-fense (DoD) seeks proposals from industry for joint development of equipment that will have both military and commercial uses. The Pentagon will spend $185 million this year on the pilot dual-use program. The aim is to cut costs of building and maintaining weapons and supporting equipment. Operating and support costs alone currently amount to 70% of the life-cycle cost of weapons systems, according to Paul Kaminski, the undersecretary of defense for acquisition and technology. Pentagon plans call for finding more commercial solutions for repairing existing equipment as well as developing new dual-use products. Kaminski says an example would be the fitting of new commercial joints onto 5-ton military trucks. The services are prepared to fund 25% of the cost of testing a piece of commercial equipment and qualifying it for a military application. The services are to work closely with commercial industry and prime contractors of weapon systems. They want to make sure that dual-use products perform at least as well as the strictly military products they could replace. Also, the products must promise lower operating and support costs. To pick the first projects under the program, the military services are holding a competition. DoD will announce winners in May.

Single-phase electric motor wins best product award

The Large Horsepower Single Phase Electric Motor developed by Precise Power Corp., Bradenton, FL, is the year's best new product from a small company. At least, that is the judgment of the National Society of Professional Engineers, headquartered in Alexandria, VA. The winner of the society's annual competition uses a high-energy writing coil. "Written Pole" motors can change polarity during operation. The technology allows motors of 10 to 60 horsepower--and potentially more than 100 horsepower--to be used on existing ac single-phase lines.

Use of laser systems surges in manufacturing equipment

The popularity of laser systems continues to outstrip growth in other segments of manufacturing technology. That is evident in a survey by the Association for Manufacturing Technology (AMT), based in McLean, VA. At $334 million, shipments of industrial laser equipment and systems for North American markets and U.S. exports were up 40% in the first nine months of 1996. "Much of this growth can be attributed to wider acceptance of lasers and the fact that lasers are replacing other technologies in various manufacturing processes," explains Steve Llewellyn, head of AMT's Laser Systems Product Group. Llewellyn also is manager of Laser Business at GE Fanuc Automation North America. The survey of 40 firms indicates that cutting applications accounted for the largest source of business activity during the period with slightly over half of all shipments. Marking and welding applications ran a distant second and third, respectively.

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